Interview with Melba Pattillo Beals
QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

[GAP] YOUNG PEOPLE THAT DON'T KNOW THAT LIFE THERE, OR WHAT IT WAS LIKE WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG, AND MANY PEOPLE—[GAP] SPEAK TO ME MAYBE AN LLUSTRATION SO THAT SOMEONE WHO MIGHT NOT HAVE A GOOD SENSE OF THAT KIND OF—[GAP] TRYING TO GET AN ILLUSTRATION OF WHAT IT MEANT TO BE A YOUNG BLACK GIRL IN LITTLE ROCK.

Melba Pattillo Beals:

It meant that if you went to Woolworths, and you wanted, you know, if you were a young black person in Little Rock and you went downtown with your parents on Saturday and you wanted a sandwich and you went to Woolworths, there was a counter and you couldn't eat. At first you couldn't eat at all at the counter, you just watched and then secondarily, they built a railing so that you could eat on one side. I think the essence of it is it meant that if you had to go to the bathroom, there were the white ladies bathroom and the black ladies bathroom. And I remember one day getting—I was really curious as a child and I wanted to know why if I gotta go potty do I gotta go down these stairs and way away. And so one day, I wanted to go to the bathroom and I decided that I wanted to know what was in a white ladies bathroom that I couldn't see, you know, so I went in there and, here are all these cops banging on the door, you know, and everything was carrying on. My mother was screaming "Don't kill her!" It was a big scene, you know. And there was nothing but toilets in there. The essence of life if you were young in Little Rock was that the life was separate and you were always frightened. I was always, always, always, frightened. If you were in a black community, it meant that you have no protection. By and large there were no black cops, no black busmen, no black mailmen, you were on a separate reservation. And, if you depended on the police department for safety, like my father was a very big man and I can remember when I was very little somebody was getting lynched, an Asian, and they would come to get the men, the black men out of the community to prevent the lynching, or to help him get out of town in the middle of the night. So, my life as a child was shadows, the Bible, joy with my family, limits, always felt limits. See, you always feel like, frightened, like I couldn't be protected. My uncles and my father couldn't really protect me if there were a confrontation with whites. I remember an incident where I think, black children were trapped in a car, and because, the police had taken the parents away, some miniscule thing like a ticket or something. So life was limited, you know, within the boundaries allowed. There was somebody over you, somebody in control. You were in a bottle and somebody else had the stopper.